martes, 9 de octubre de 2012

Si el aura de invulnerabilidad de Obama se resquebraja...


(Foto: Reuters/Larry Downing)

RealClearPolitics advierte del peligro que supondría para el Presidente ser visto como un posible perdedor, ya que el fenómeno Obama se fundamenta más en las impresiones que en los contenidos:
One theory I’ve had about this election is particularly relevant right now. I call it “Barack Obama vs. gravity.” The basic idea is this: Team Obama has had one overriding goal this cycle -- to keep the president ahead of Mitt Romney in the polls.

The reason is simple: Obama is, and always has been, something of a bandwagon candidate. A major theme in 2008 was always that supporting Obama enabled the voter to be a part of history, encouraging others to join in the process. But for that theme to work, the perception had to be that Obama was, in fact, going to win.

So every time there was a real or potential setback, Team Obama was ready to change the subject. I don't mean this as an insult. Rather, I simply mean it as descriptive of some smart moves by the Obama campaign during the last campaign and, I think, this campaign.

(...) Why is it so important to the Obama camp that he stay ahead this time? After all, the “make history” argument is less compelling this time than it was in 2008. Also, remember that political science tells us that individual events don’t matter that much in the long run -- it’s the fundamentals that dictate the result to a much larger degree.

I don’t really disagree with any of this -- indeed the insight from political science that fundamentals take over is the key assumption behind my theory. But I do think there is a degree to which Team Obama has successfully (and quite frankly brilliantly) created a “virtuous cycle” this election. There are three ways in which this is the case.

First, the bandwagon effect affects fundraising. Once you move outside the partisan core, people like to back winners. This is especially true of the business community. By assiduously cultivating its front-runner status, the Obama campaign has aided its ability to press future arguments.

Second, maintaining a lead allows greater leeway in the arguments it can make. Something like the “cancer ad” from August looks hard-hitting from a campaign that is leading (and I certainly include candidate super PACs as part of the “campaign”), but would probably be described as “desperate” from one that is losing.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it affects press portrayals of the candidates and party enthusiasm. This is the most important thing here: I still think the default expectation here has been that Obama should be losing. “Defying gravity” is hardly an original motif for this election, after all.

So the view that Obama is going to lose can -- or at least could have -- quickly become the conventional wisdom. If that happens, we would end up with a vicious cycle that looks something like this: The Democratic base becomes downtrodden, its enthusiasm falls, the right’s enthusiasm skyrockets, the likely-voter screens skew more Republican, and Obama falls even further behind in the polls. Instead, we have a campaign where everyone marvels at Obama's constant lead, further adding to the mythos surrounding his supposed inability to lose.

This is why the Oct. 3 debate really might have marked an important, structural change point in the campaign.  Now, I’m emphatically not arguing that Obama can’t win the election after his poor performance (and Romney's strong performance) at that face-off.  In fact, I still regard him as the slight favorite. But we’ve seen exactly the combination Team Obama worked assiduously to avoid: Romney re-consolidating his base, Republican enthusiasm skyrocketing, and the president’s aura of invulnerability pierced.